Brooklyn Rivera of Yatama: “We Can’t Be Afraid”

March 21st demonstration in Bilwi, on the North Atlantic Coast, to support Yatama’s presidential candidate George Henriquez. Courtesy photo: Confidencial
Discontent and abandonment on Nicaragua’s Caribbean region fed into Yatama’s march in Bilwi. The march was held despite the police siege. “There are a lot of reasons to protest,” residents declare.

By Ivette Munguia (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – The state’s abandonment of the North Caribbean population following Hurricanes Eta and Iota has added to their frustration. The region has also seen decades of unchecked invasions from illegal land colonizers, who illegally occupy the indigenous lands.

These are some of the reasons that impelled members of the regional indigenous Yatama party to defy the Nicaraguan police. On March 21, Yatama led a march through the streets of Bilwi, the principal city in the North Caribbean Region.

Yatama leader and National Assembly deputy Brooklyn Rivera condemned the hostile presence of police and soldiers in their region. He stated that this has affected both the cultural and the subsistence activities of the Caribbean population. Nonetheless, “In Yatama, we’re trying to resist. We’re going out on the street to demonstrate that we’re ready for any situation that arises [during the election process].” After explaining the reasons for the march, he added: “We can’t be afraid.”

The Yatama march occurred in the context of the party’s tenth assembly. During the meeting, Creole leader George Henriquez was ratified as the regional party’s candidate for the presidency. He’ll later participate in the National Coalition’s process to select a single presidential candidate, prior to the November general elections. These elections are scheduled, but with less than eight months to go, they haven’t yet been officially convoked.

Yatama: The police state continues, but the population is marching

Since September 2018, a de facto police state has been in effect across all of Nicaragua. As such, the Yatama march was celebrated as an important feat. In Managua, however, some of the opposition politicians tried to cast doubt on the protest’s authenticity.

Rivera affirmed that the police siege and Ortega regime’s repression is the same throughout the country. However, he believes that the Caribbean population have their own world view and their own necessities. These force them to demand their truncated rights more energetically.

Violeta Granera was at the Yatama assembly in representation of the National Coalition, which Yatama belongs to. She highlighted the comments of some territorial leaders, who believe the police don’t dare to repress the indigenous groups like in the rest of the country. Because “they [the indigenous population] are very fierce.” Other observers pointed out that “they’d have to bring in outside Police” to repress the march. This is because the Caribbean police don’t have the same resources as the Pacific side.

Granera mentioned another reason the police didn’t intervene in the indigenous party’s march. She asserted: “They know the invasion of the Miskito lands is a time bomb that could explode at any moment.”

In Nicaragua’s North Caribbean region, attacks from armed land invaders on the indigenous Miskito and Mayangna population are increasing. An analysis published by Confidencial in February 2021 examined the data between April 2018 and January 2021. They confirmed that there’s been an increase in colonist invasions and killings. The bloody advance of the occupiers has left a toll of 17 indigenous people killed. To date, there’ve been no arrests of those responsible.

In 2020, thirteen indigenous people were murdered. The total from 2011 to 2020 is 49 murdered, according to the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center. Their data was collected in collaboration with two Atlantic Coast organizations: the Center for Justice and Human Rights, and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Advocates.

In Rivera’s judgement, the Caribbean peoples have “an excess of reasons to mobilize at opportune moments.” It’s common to hear stories of “the death of leaders, the abduction of community authorities, and the depredation of natural resources.” He continues listing other abuses: “land colonists’ invasions and the lack of attention for the aftermath of our natural disasters.” Given all this, a spontaneous demonstration like the one last weekend shouldn’t cause any astonishment.

Repression greater in the South Caribbean

Although the demand for autonomy is consistent throughout the Caribbean Coast, Yatama leaders feel the South Caribbean is under tighter siege, There, the harassment of the principal leaders keeps them from holding any kind of demonstration like the one in Bilwi. This may be because the South Caribbean is more mixed race and more interconnected with the rest of the country.

Yatama candidate George Henriquez, a native of the South Caribbean zone, has been the victim of police repression. On March eleventh he denounced in a live transmission that a group of officials had stopped him. One of them, “said he was going to terminate me.” The video can still be viewed on Henriquez’ Facebook page. In it, one of the police officers can be seen photographing Henriquez from a patrol car while he’s recording.

The week of March 22nd, reporters asked Kitty Monterrey to comment on the Yatama demonstration. Monterrey is currently president of the Citizens for Liberty party. She responded sarcastically. “It’s such a marvelous example that (…) we’re going to go to Bilwi to try to have a similar street demonstration.” She was alluding to the fact that police have prevented the rest of the political parties and movements from demonstrating.

Nonetheless, Deputy Brooklyn Rivera feels that with the assembly and the march that followed, “We’re smoothing the road for progress. We’re creating conditions to eventually enter the [electoral] process, which hasn’t yet been announced by the Supreme Electoral Council. Other members of the opposition haven’t yet determined whether they’ll participate or not in these elections. However, he stressed, the mandate from the Yatama assembly is: “to forge a strategy for electoral participation, including possible alliances.”

Read more from Nicaragua here on Havana Times.